A conservative influencer with a history of making bigoted statements – including referring to LGBTQ people as “groomers” and supporting the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory – is at the center of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reported efforts to build an alternative conservative media ecosystem in his state.
Will Witt, a former pundit for conservative edutainment organization PragerU, runs a website called The Florida Standard, a pro-Desantis outlet that the Republican governor has given preference to over more traditional media. The exact origins of the website aren’t clear, but “it was the brainchild of pro-DeSantis donors in Florida,” according to Semafor, which also added that Witt would not say who owned the site.
DeSantis is widely believed to be former President Donald Trump’s most credible potential challenger in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, giving Witt and his shadowy backers a unique place in the conservative media landscape.
As Semafor noted, DeSantis almost only grants interviews to Fox News and conservative podcasts, but he sat down with Witt in August for a lengthy on-camera discussion. Witt began by asking the governor why he chose to accept The Florida Standard’s invitation after denying so many others.
“There are a lot of corporate media outlets in this country that are just dedicated to pursuing partisan narratives and trying to smear people who dissent from those narratives,” DeSantis told Witt. “Why do I want to give them any extra eyeballs or any extra clicks. That’s just not something I’m interested in.”
DeSantis’ rationale sounded strikingly similar to something Witt had said just weeks earlier when describing his new outlet. “I want to put out straight news reporting, not a narrative,” Witt told The Washington Post in July.
Witt was singing a different tune just a month earlier, though, when he was addressing his own audience instead of tailoring his message for the Post. “I’m very excited to be moving to the great state of Florida to start a new media publication that will be the true and conservative voice for Florida,” he tweeted in June.
Even a cursory glance of The Florida Standard’s DeSantis coverage make the site’s editorial vision clear: “UFC Star Jorge Masvidal: ‘DeSantis Fights For Our Freedom, and He Doesn’t Tap Out’”; “VIRAL VIDEO: ‘I’m Voting DeSantis, and I’m A Democrat’”; and “TV Spot Highlights DeSantis’ Environmental Work.”
Witt: “Great Replacement is just a theory, huh?”
Witt comes from the right-wing media ecosystem, including years of trigger-the-libs-style punditry while working for PragerU. He would often star in person-on-the-street interviews purporting to expose the ignorance or hypocrisy of left-leaning college students; one of his recurring bits was to dress in stereotypical clothing of various ethnic groups and nationalities, including Native American, Mexican, and Chinese people. In a similar spirit, earlier this month he tweeted that he was “canceled” because Kanye West, the rapper now known as Ye, was his top artist on Spotify. (Ye has spent months espousing antisemitism, including saying “I love Hitler” in an interview with Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.)
Beyond those purposefully offensive stunts, Witt also flirts with more overt racism and bigotry. Responding to a video of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) discussing a path to citizenship for undocumented people, Witt tweeted: “Great replacement is just a theory huh?” Witt was referring to an increasingly common conspiracy theory on the right that Democrats are working with global elites, typically coded as Jewish, to “replace” white people with non-white immigrants.
One of Witt’s earliest Instagram posts is of him giving the OK symbol in January 2017, a trolling semi-embrace of white supremacist allegiance. “Apparently I am a fascist,” he captioned the photo. “Comment below and tell me what you think.”
More recently, he retweeted a post from his fiance, right-wing Dutch commentator Eva Vlaardingerbroek, in which she wrote, “White lives matter and it’s ok to be white.” The “it’s ok to be white” meme campaign began on the extremist message board 4chan and was later adopted by social media influencers to launder white supremacist beliefs into the mainstream under a pretext of colorblindness.
Witt’s white identitarian politics extend to the realms of consumerism and pop culture as well. Responding to a shelf of greeting cards celebrating Black heritage, Witt tweeted at Hallmark, “Will you make these cards for white people too?”
He repeatedly criticized Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings series for including Black hobbits and dwarves, which he claimed were cast because “the left wants to destroy the values America and the West were founded on.”
“The left claims the changes aren’t a big deal in order to make you look crazy for questioning it, but if it’s ‘not a big deal’ what the race or story of the characters are, then why change it in the first place?” he wrote in a newsletter from February. “They change it because they hate what Tolkien stood for: good triumphing over evil, western values, and Christianity.”
Apparently worried that he hadn’t adequately made his point initially, in September Witt tweeted: “There are no black hobbits.”
The obvious corollary to Witt’s white identitarianism is his barely disguised anti-Blackness. He called then-Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson “historically unqualified for the job.” He cited Thomas Jefferson’s treatment of Sally Hemmings and the children they had together while she was enslaved as evidence the United States was not founded on racism. He retweeted a post addressed to “Americans who happen to be white” criticizing a program to promote Black and Hispanic home ownership.
In one tweet, Witt declared that there are biological differences between races, even if they are less pronounced than between genders. “The biological differences between men and women are much greater than that between races,” Witt tweeted. “If you can change your gender, why can’t you change your race?” Unsurprisingly, his bigotry and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric don’t stop there.
Witt: Conservatives need to make “the groomers and sickos afraid to sexualize our children.”
Like many in conservative media, Witt has freely attacked LGBTQ people as “groomers,” a slur used to imply that gay and trans people are a threat to children. In April, when the right-wing social media account Libs of TikTok and others were in the midst of a campaign to label LGBTQ people as “groomers,” Witt weighed in by accusing the LGBTQ activists and allies pushing back against the slur of being the real danger.
“If you’re mad about people calling out grooming and pedophilia then you’re probably a groomer yourself,” he tweeted at the time. He also posted a video to his Instagram account urging his viewers to make “the groomers and sickos afraid to sexualize our children.”
One month later, Witt quote-tweeted anti-LGBTQ activist “Billboard” Chris Elston, a rabid transphobe who has targeted health care providers for supporting trans youth. “What the hell is our culture. We are in the end times,” Witt tweeted in response to a typically anti-trans post from Elston.
Witt continued to attack LGBTQ communities during Pride Month in June. “There are parents who willfully took their kids to these pride festivals,” he said. “If we lived in a good and moral society, these parents would be taken to jail for child abuse.” Witt also retweeted transphobic posts from right-wing media personalities Matt Walsh and Candace Owens.
Beyond his white identity politics and anti-trans activism, Witt also offers standard issue takes on common conservative issues. He is a committed anti-vaxxer, and his website regularly publishes stories purporting to show the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccine, including from discredited conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf. He’s also defended Kyle Rittenhouse and celebrated the vigilante’s acquittal after he shot and killed multiple people during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Witt remains a relatively minor figure in the conservative media landscape, but his proximity and access to DeSantis sets him apart from many of his colleagues. If DeSantis challenges Trump in the Republican primary, Witt and The Florida Standard will likely play a major role in the governor’s press strategy. Although Witt may be attempting to brand his website as “straight news reporting” without a partisan narrative, his history makes clear that he’s a conservative propagandist masquerading as a reliable news source.